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Georgia lawmakers ready to expand access to medical cannabis

FILE--In this Friday, Dec. 19, 2014, file photograph, an ultraviolet growth light illuminates a marijuana plant in a grow room at the 3D Dispensary in Denver. Marijuana states such as Colorado, who are worried about a federal crackdown with the advent of the Trump administration, may have a new strategy to fend off the law--a bill in the state legislature to allow licensed recreational pot growers to instantly re-clasify their weed as medical pot in case there is a change in federal la or enforcement. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Two years after Georgia legalized medical marijuana, lawmakers are opening the popular program to more patients.

The House approved a bill Tuesday that would add six new diagnoses to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis oil, including autism, AIDS, Tourette's syndrome, and Alzheimer's disease.

Additionally, anyone in a hospice program, regardless of diagnosis, will be allowed access to marijuana oil that's low on THC, the chemical responsible for the marijuana high.

"Today was a good, positive step in the right direction for a lot of hurting Georgians," said Macon's Rep. Allen Peake, who sponsored the bill and has been a long-time advocate for legal access to medical cannabis in the state.

The final bill was a compromise. The Senate wanted to lower THC levels in the cannabis oil while the House wanted a greater expansion with more qualifying conditions.

The bill passed the House and will have to pass the Senate before moving to the governor who has signaled his approval of the limited program expansion.

"I have full expectations that the governor will sign off on the bill," Peake said.

However, Peake said that there is still much that needs to be done in order to improve access to cannabis oil in the state. Currently, there is no legal avenue for cultivation in Georgia.

"We still have a gaping hole in our law and that is: Where do you access the product?" Peake said. "And until we fix that and provide a solution for access here in Georgia for safe, lab-tested products, we still provide burdens to citizens who do want to get the product."

He said that he hopes to continue work on access in the next legislative session.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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